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February 1, 2009

Your money or your life — Some US Airways 'Miracle on the Hudson' passengers want more than a $5,000 check for their trouble

Two weeks ago USA Airways decided to send $5,000 checks to each passenger aboard the "Miracle on the Hudson" flight that crashed-landed in the river January 15, 2009 (above and below).

Now many of the passengers are saying that's not enough.


Should you be delighted at having been given a second chance at life, without regard to anything else — or demand a king's ransom for the trauma?

Here's Gary Stoller's January 26, 2009 USA Today story about the burgeoning controversy.


US Airways passengers get $5,000 each — is it enough?

Many US Airways passengers who endured a crash landing in the Hudson River 12 days ago say they appreciate the $5,000 that the airline has offered — but some say it's not enough.
Joe Hart, a salesman from Charlotte who suffered a bloody nose and bruises, says he "would like to be made whole for the incident."
It's too soon after the accident to determine what emotional distress he has suffered, he says.
He's one of 150 passengers who were dramatically rescued Jan. 15, when the Charlotte-bound Airbus A320 jet safely ditched into the frigid river off Midtown Manhattan. A pilot on the plane told air-traffic controllers that birds struck the plane before both engines failed after takeoff from New York's LaGuardia Airport.

After the crash, US Airways sent passengers a letter of apology, a $5,000 check to assist "with immediate needs" and reimbursement for the ticket.

Exactly how much compensation is appropriate is a question after crashes.

The National Air Disaster Alliance & Foundation, a safety advocacy group, says $5,000 is not enough.

"We're grateful everyone survived, and the captain on the plane was so marvelous," says Gail Dunham, the group's executive director. "But passengers lost luggage, briefcases, cellphones, BlackBerrys and business documents, and went through a terrific ordeal."

Like many, Hart says he left a lot of items behind and doesn't know which ones may be lost.

The National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates aviation accidents, wants to examine baggage and belongings, and determine how much they weighed on the plane, says spokesman Peter Knudson.

It could take "weeks or months" before they are returned to passengers, he says.

Hart and another passenger, Dave Sanderson, say they each left more than $5,000 worth of items on the plane.

Sanderson, a sales manager in Charlotte, says US Airways' letter and checks were "a nice gesture," and the airline's personnel "have treated me like gold since the incident."

US Airways Vice President Jim Olson says that an insurance claims specialist is contacting passengers and that they'll be reimbursed for expenses or losses above $5,000.

The airline wants to ensure no passenger is "losing money for the inconvenience or anything lost during the accident," he says.

Under Department of Transportation regulations, airlines are liable for up to $3,300 per passenger for checked bags that are lost or damaged on a domestic flight. Most airlines disclaim liability for carry-on bags unless a crewmember stowed the bag, says Bill Mosley, a department spokesman.

In addition to recovering losses, Hart says he's concerned about having trouble flying. He's flown on six planes since the accident, and each flight has gotten "progressively more difficult."

He says he was tense, sweated and "felt every bit of turbulence" on a Los Angeles-to-Philadelphia flight last week, though it wasn't that turbulent a flight.

Hart says he has talked to a lawyer in North Carolina but hasn't decided whether to take any legal action.

"I want to see how things play out with US Airways," he says. "I'm hopeful US Airways understands the significance of the incident."

Kreindler & Kreindler, a New York law firm that has represented plaintiffs in crashes, says it has been contacted by several passengers on the US Airways flight.

The firm's lawyers are determining what injuries and emotional distress passengers may have suffered, and what parties might be liable under New York state law, says Noah Kushlefsky, a partner in the firm.

In many aviation accidents, survivors have claimed post-traumatic stress disorder. To recover damages, plaintiffs have to prove that injury or distress was caused by negligence, or the jet or its engines not performing as they should, Kushlefsky says. New York law requires a lawsuit to be filed within three years of an incident, he says.

Sanderson, a father of four, says he's thankful he could celebrate his 48th birthday on Friday and has no reason to talk to an attorney.

"US Air has been doing the right thing," he says. "Everyone is acting in a responsible way."

Fred Berretta, who suffered a small cut on his head during the crash landing, says US Airways representatives have called frequently and treated him very well. He says that a few personal mementos from his father were left behind but that the money sent by US Airways covers the value of his belongings.

Berretta, who works for a financial services company, was flown home to Charlotte after the crash on his company's jet.

"I'm a private pilot, and I'm sure I'll be flying again," he says. "But it might be a little while before I fly for pleasure again."

Amber Wells of Charlotte says she's so thankful to have survived and to be with her 9-month-old daughter, Rayley, that she hasn't had time to think about her belongings.

She says she lost $2,000 of nursing equipment and a laptop computer, as well as a checked bag and a carry-on bag.

"Everything that's gone can be replaced," says Wells, 34, a senior manager for NASCAR. "My life cannot be replaced."


The New York Post reported this past Friday, January 30, that US Airways has just given first-class upgrades — for one year — to all the passengers who were on Flight 1549.

Long story short: Many passengers are outraged by what they consider US Airways' attempt to lowball them.


Next Sunday (February 8, 2009) on "60 Minutes," Captain Chesley Sullenberger speaks publicly for the first time about the flight.

February 1, 2009 at 04:01 PM | Permalink


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These ungrateful, money grubbing scumbags are disgusting. They should be ashamed of themselves.

Posted by: Terrence | Feb 2, 2009 5:50:24 PM

Sure didn't take long for the true nature of the beast to show its ugly head. Not enough money for saving your life! It won't be too long before Sully is no longer the hero either.

Posted by: thanks4nothing | Feb 2, 2009 8:24:59 AM

This is news to me, but then I live in England. I agree with Amber Wells, anything lost is just stuff, we all have lots of stuff. Family is what is important here, I cannot imagine Chesly and that fine crew contemplating seeing a lawyer for something like this. I think US Airways has behaved better than many other companies might do.
You cannot replace a lost son, mother, sister or nephew.

Posted by: Paul | Feb 2, 2009 7:12:35 AM

Ungreatful people, you should be ashamed of yourselves. Your lives were saved but thats not enough. If you really want to sue, then sue the parties that are ressponsible for the crash, the geese. Because thats what you look like asking for more money

Posted by: Eddie | Feb 2, 2009 12:05:26 AM

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